It’s been a long wait for Team France, a total of 24 years since they last succeeded, but today they once again lifted the coveted Edward Prince of Wales Cup at Hickstead (GBR) when winning the penultimate leg of the Longines FEI Jumping Nations Cup™ 2022 Europe Division 1 series.
And hero of the day was 44-year-old Marc Dilasser who, in a competition with some extraordinary highs and lows, recovered from a disappointing 12-fault second round to clinch victory for his country in a three-way jump-off against the clock.
It came down to an act of faith in the end, chef d’equipe Henk Nooren never flinching from the decision to send Dilasser and his 12-year-old gelding Arioto du Gevres into battle when it came to the crunch. He suspected it would come down to that as the competition progressed.
“Everything was so close and stayed so tight, nobody was staying ahead in the second round so it was very exciting. Already halfway through the second round I was telling Marc’s groom “it smells like a jump-off!”
It was Germany and Brazil who found themselves in the showdown with the eventual winners when all three sides finished the first two rounds on an eight-fault tally. Belgium, Ireland and the hosts from Great Britain had each racked up 12 faults apiece and were separated only by time when slotting into fourth, fifth and sixth places while Team Sweden had a difficult day and never posed a threat, finishing seventh on a big score of 36.
The Brazilians, who posted an historic win at the British venue in 2017, found themselves right in the thick of it thanks to a superb double-clear from their opening partnership of Joao Victor Castro whose fabulous nine-year-old Dispo Cece however was jumping with such enthusiasm that he very nearly dislodged his rider a couple of times in the first round.
Luiz Felipe Cortizo Gonçalves de Azevedo Filho and Hermes van de Vrombautshoeve made their single mistake of the day when lowering the influential Longines vertical at fence 10 first time out, while Marlon Modolo Zanotelli’s Harwich VDL hit the first element of the triple combination at fence four but likewise was clear on his second tour of Kelvin Bywater’s 12-fence track..
It was second-line rider Francisco Jose Mesquita Musa and his handsome chestnut mare Alea Marathon, who posted single errors in both rounds, that chef d’equipe Pedro Paulo Lacerda selected for the jump-off, however.
Meanwhile Otto Becker opted for Tobias Meyer and Greatest Boy H who were foot-perfect all day. The legendary Ludger Beerbaum, who announced his retirement from team competition six years ago, made a welcome return at the British fixture posting a clear and four faults when German pathfinder with his grey mare Mila, while Marcus Ehning and A La Carte NRW clipped the white gate at fence six first time out on the iconic Hickstead track before producing a brilliant second-round clear. Anchorman Philip Weishaupt retired with Asathir after hitting fence five in round one, and it might well have been a different story if he could have stayed clear second time out because that would have left Team Germany as clear winners with just four faults on the board. But a mistake at the penultimate oxer moved the German scoreline to eight.
The French were sharing the lead with them at the halfway stage with just four faults on the board after clears from both Dilasser and team openers Olivier Robert and Vivaldi des Meneaux. Edward Levy’s first round with Uno de Cerisy fell apart after hitting the second element of the double at fence seven and they crossed the finish line with 16 on the board while anchorman Kevin Staut and Visconti du Telman hit the notorious Hickstead planks at fence nine.
But they added only four more from Olivier in round two when Levy redeemed himself with a lovely clear while Staut was also faultless. Meanwhile though, Dilasser had three fences down at his second attempt.
He seemed an unlikely contender for the jump-off, but not in French minds. “I talked a lot with Kevin and we both agreed that it should be him,” Nooren said afterwards. And they both obviously knew exactly what they were doing.
Brazil’s Mesquita Musa was first against the clock but left the door wide open when hitting the second fence, but Meyer punched the air with delight after racing through the finish without touching a pole in 42.89 seconds. Last to go, Dilasser wasn’t a bit intimidated, just filled with determination to make up for his second-round run, and he delivered. Setting off like lightning he jumped the final two oxers on the new twisting track at an acute angle and raced down to the last to shave almost a full second off Meyer’s target time. Team France went wild.
Dilasser blamed himself for his second-round result.
“I was too confident and we didn’t have the best canter and tension. He’s a small horse and you need to be riding like you’re going to war! He didn’t feel the fire, and like me he is best when he is under pressure!” the Frenchman explained.
And talking about the brave Arioto du Gevres he said, “his owner is his breeder and they are a super nice family. He won the 4-Star Grand Prix in Gorla Minore (ITA) and ten days ago he was clear in the Grand Prix of Falsterbo (SWE). Last year he jumped double-clear in Aachen, Rome (ITA) and the Longines Final in Barcelona (ESP) so he is a fantastic horse and very clever, although he never wants to work at home!”
Edward Levy said he was very disappointed after his first round “but the team really motivated me so I stayed focused for the second round and my horse is very generous. The Nations Cup is magical with two rounds,” he pointed out.
Olivier Robert said “When Henk told me I could come to Hickstead I was so happy. This was a super day for us!” and Dilasser agreed. “I did my best and when I jumped the last fence all my friends were shouting so I knew I’d done it! It’s magic…winning the Nations Cup here is a dream for any rider!” he said.
Today’s result has moved France up from sixth to fourth and Germany into pole position on the Europe Division 1 League table with just one last leg left to run.
Only the best seven nations will make the cut to the Longines FEI Jumping Nations Cup™ Final 2022 in October which not only offers one of the sport’s most prestigious titles but also a single qualifying opportunity for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games. So there’s a lot to play for when the Royal Dublin Society opens its doors in Ireland’s capital city in three weeks’ time…..